Sunak ‘misjudged mood of nation’ by dropping D-Day event to campaign in election

Rishi Sunak has been told that he has “misjudged the mood of the nation” by deciding to return early from the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations to campaign in the general election.

And he has been warned that he appears to have already handed the mantle of prime minister to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer who joined veterans this afternoon in Normandy.

The criticism from Gulf War veteran Colonel Stuart Crawford came after Mr Sunak decided not to attend the major gathering of world leaders with veterans at Omaha Beach this afternoon.

A Conservative source confirmed that he had returned to campaign in the election instead.

Sunak at an earlier D-Day event (Reuters)
Sunak at an earlier D-Day event (Reuters)

In contrast, Labour leader Sir Keir, who is the odds-on favourite to win the election and be prime minister on 5 July, was at the event, mingling with world leaders including US president Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron and King Charles.

Asked whether it was a mistake for the prime minister to miss the event, Col Crawford, who served for 20 years in the Royal Tank Regiment, said: “I think Mr Sunak misjudges the mood of the nation by doing so.

“It’s a solemn occasion and sadly the last major anniversary of the landings which will feature many of the surviving veterans.

“Campaigning for an election which everyone knows he’s going to lose anyway is a poor excuse.

“He should be there with the others, and his absence and Starmer’s presence makes it look as if he’s passed the premiership to Sir Keir already.”

Biden meets a D-Day veteran (Getty)
Biden meets a D-Day veteran (Getty)

Foreign secretary Lord Cameron and defence secretary Grant Shapps represented the Tory government at the event.

There was criticism from other quarters too. Former first sea lord Admiral Lord West told The Independent: “Nothing politicians do nowadays surprises me!”

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, who is also with veterans in Normandy but is hoping to pick up Tory voters in the election, attacked the prime minister for his decision.

He posted on Twitter/X: “The prime minister has ducked out of the international D-Day event to fly back to the UK to campaign. I am here in Normandy in a personal capacity because I think it matters. Does he?”

Labour’s shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth MP added: “The Prime Minister skipping off early from D-Day commemorations to record a television interview where he once again lied through his teeth is both an embarrassment and a total dereliction of duty.

“Our country deserves so much better than out of touch, desperate Rishi Sunak and his chaotic Tory Party.”

The prime minister had appeared with British veterans at a “heroes welcome” event this morning, giving a short speech before returning home.

In missing the event at Omaha Beach, where the Americans landed and some of the fiercest fighting took place 80 years ago today, Mr Sunak also lost the opportunity to join Ukrainian president Voldymyr Zelensky, who reminded leaders that they have another war on Europe’s front with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Keir Starmer and Grant Shapps attended the Omaha Beach event (PA)
Keir Starmer and Grant Shapps attended the Omaha Beach event (PA)

President Zelensky said: “Allies defended Europe’s freedom then, and Ukrainians do so now. Unity prevailed then, and true unity can prevail today.”

The event saw President Biden giving a speech calling for peace in the world.

After praising the veterans present, he turned to current events saying: “Ukraine has been invaded by a tyrant. They’re fighting with extraordinary courage, suffering great losses but never backing down.”

Linking Ukraine’s fight against tyranny to the struggle for freedom on D-Day beaches, he pledged that his country “will not walk away” from the current conflict.

The president described Nato as “the greatest military alliance in the world”, saying it is “more determined than ever to keep peace”.

“Isolation was not the answer 80 years ago and it’s not the answer today,” Mr Biden added.

Thursday's commemorations began in the early morning with a military piper at Gold Beach in Arromanches, who played a lament at sea at the exact time of the invasion.

The King told one veteran he was “doing well” after being asked about his health.

During his speech, he paid tribute to the “remarkable wartime generation”, telling the audience: “It is with the most profound sense of gratitude that we remember them and all who served at that critical time.”

He added: “Our ability to learn from their stories at first hand diminishes, but our obligation to remember them, what they stood for and what they achieved for us all can never diminish.”

The King wore his Field Marshal No 4 Tropical Service dress uniform, with medals and decorations for the event.

The audience heard the experiences of Joe Mines, 99, from Hornchurch in east London, and Camilla dabbed her eye before smiling with the King as Mr Mines waved his arms in the air.

Schoolchildren presented veterans attending the UK’s national commemoration event with white roses while cadets waved flags.

Elsewhere, President Biden spoke at a US national commemoration in Normandy alongside President Macron.

He said: “It is the highest honour, as commander in chief, to be able to salute you here in Normandy.”

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales praised the “bravery and sacrifice of the Canadian troops, who gave so much 80 years ago” as he delivered a speech at the ceremony on Juno Beach.

He was joined by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, French prime minister Gabriel Attal, Canadian D-Day veterans and armed forces personnel in Courseulles-sur-Mer in France.

William, addressing veterans, added: “Thank you for our freedom, and thank you for your service.”

Sir Keir said the national commemorative event in Normandy had been “moving and powerful”, adding: “My message to the veterans is ‘thank you’.”